Attorney: Even the best parents should know rights in CPS investigation

(WXYZ) - Julie Baumer lost almost everything when she tried to do the right thing.

“There is no amount of compensation that can ever get back what I have lost,” she said.

Her nightmare started in 2003.  When her sister said she couldn’t raise her newborn son, Julie took in baby Phillip and offered to adopt him.  He had a rough birth.  He was a fussy eater from the start. Then, at five-weeks-old he suddenly stopped eating. She rushed him to the hospital. 

“When the results came back they said there was bleeding on the brain,” said Juliue.

A doctor at the hospital diagnosed him with shaken baby syndrome. Julie, in her twenties with few resources, found herself unable to pay a doctor to review that diagnosis at trial. She was sent to prison with a sentence of fifteen years. After almost five years in prison, the Innocence Project helped exonerate her.

An expert found an MRI that proved little Phillip suffered a stroke, not trauma. However by then Phillip had been permanently adopted. She had no right to see him.

“To be told I am to have no contact with him, that is a cross I am going to have to bear for the rest of my life. That is a heartache,” said Julie.

“Do I think the system works? No,” said Sonia Cannon, an attorney who specializes in Child Abuse and Neglect cases.

Cannon has worked as a caseworker, a prosecutor of Child Protective Services Cases, and most recently as a defense attorney.  She says the system makes it hard for those without resources to get a good defense.
She says all parents need to be aware, even the innocent can find themselves under investigation for child abuse.  She has seen it happen.

She says if you find yourself subject of a child abuse investigation, don’t go it alone.

“You better contact an attorney and do it immediately,” said Cannon.

It can happen at a hospital with an unexplained illness or if your child says something that raises a red flag at school.

That is what a local mom says happened to her.  She says she was investigated after her  special needs son said at school she didn’t feed him, when she says she simply changed his diet. She recorded CPS as they came to her house.  The video raises the question for parents, would you know what to do if it happened to you?

She told the CPS worker an attorney told her to ask what the allegations were before deciding whether to let her in her house.
 
“Don’t call these attorneys. They don’t know what they are talking about,” the worker can be heard saying.

“Technically she doesn’t have to let her in her home,” said Cannon.

Attorney Cannon says this is a big question parents have. She recommends parents ask what the allegations are and then based on that information decide, should they call an attorney or let the worker into their home because the home will help prove the allegations are false.

CPS investigators do need warrants to force entry, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when you should let them in.  If you don’t let them in they can obtain a court order.  It is possible a judge may remove your children pending an investigation.

“Verifying the safety and well-being of the child through face-to-face contact at the child’s home is essential to a Children’s Protective Services investigation,” said Bob Wheaton, Public Information Officer for the
Michigan Department of Health & Human Services.

Cannon also says it is not a bad idea to calmly let the investigator know you plan to record any conversations because it is about your children, and therefore very important.

“Don’t let your emotions control you.  Be calm and polite,” said Cannon.

She said in cases where a doctor is investigating whether an illness is caused by abuse, don’t try to figure out what happened by suggesting possibilities.  She has seen that misconstrued as if a parent is offering conflicting stories.  Only talk about what you know, not what you don’t know.

Julie says  the devastating lesson she learned is  don’t let the fact you know you are innocent result in you letting your guard down.

“You put your trust in them and you don’t expect the system to fail. Unfortunately the system failed and I just happened to be a victim of that,” she said.

CPS provided the below pamphlet to help educate parents about the process.

Parents guide to CPS by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

 

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